This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General availability: High
Quality of bandwidth: Medium
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Medium
Frequency of internet in hotels: Medium-High
We spent three weeks in Ecuador, mostly in the highlands. We covered a good bit of the country except for the coast. From Otavalo we went south through Quito to the Quilotoa loop and then west to Baños. From there we headed further south to Macas near the Amazon basin. Then we looped back through Sangay National Park to Cuenca before heading to Loja and across the border to Peru.
Like Colombia, internet availability is excellent. Every hostel we stayed in had internet and only one hotel in a small town did not. Internet cafes are so prevalent you’ll get sick of them, but be careful because not all cafes have wifi. One even refused to let us unhook the ethernet cables to use our own laptops. In big towns you’ll be able to plug in a wifi extender and find an open network. But it’s not likely you’ll need to do that, every hostel around offers free wifi.
In popular tourist spots, like Cuenca and Baños you’ll find nice cafes (the kind that serve coffee) which offer free internet. Although this hasn’t caught on everywhere in the country.
We camped mostly at established hotels and hostels. All but one had internet. Even the very remote lodge next to the looming Cotopaxi Volcano, which ran everything on generators, had free wifi.
We had surprisingly good luck with reliable internet speeds throughout Ecuador. Most places we stayed it was possible to upload and download with reasonable speed. In quite a few places the bandwidth was good enough for Skype too.
Reliability was also surprisingly good. Only one hotel had issues with the internet “going out”. Everywhere else the connection worked around the clock. Thankfully Ecuador also seems to have very few power outage issues. Never once did we have to sit around in the dark waiting for the router to turn back on.
And now for the bad news: 3G USB modems are a small fortune in Ecuador and using an unlocked modem isn’t an option. A prepaid modem at Movistar was $110 without any free time included. One Claro store quoted us a flat $110 for the modem and a second more thrifty shop said they’d sell us the modem for $50, but we still needed to pay $20 for the special “data” sim card that went in the modem. According to Claro’s website the second option seems to be correct.
There was one official Movistar store in Otavalo we stopped by to determine if we could buy a SIM and use it in our unlocked modem. The extra helpful employee (note this is the fourth extremely helpful Movistar employee we have met on this trip) said that it was possible.
Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, we couldn’t get it to work. He even used a regular Movistar modem (the $110 version) to install the official modem software. Alas, nothing worked. The employee didn’t charge us for the SIM card, but we did end up setting up another one for our phone. More on that below. Movistar does list some very strange restrictions for their Internet Movil services.
We did NOT attempt to buy the $20 Claro “data” sim card and install it in our unlocked modem. It is more likely that would work, but we don't know for certain.
The cost for a SIM card with Movistar was $4.50. Claro cards were advertised for $.50 less. The cost to call the US with Movistar is a whopping $.56 per minute, and about the same with Claro. Yes, boys and girls, we aren’t in the Northern Hemisphere any more.
Thankfully, after one $35 conference call, we consulted our favorite employee at the Movistar in Otavalo. The magical phrase is “¿Hay paquetes para llamar a los Estados Unidos?” Translated: Are there packets for calling the United States?
Packets (paquetes) are prepaid promotions. You dial a number on your phone and listen to the voice prompt. Eventually you will hear something about “Larga Distancia” and from there you’ll here options for “Estados Unidos y Canada”. Next you’ll get to select the number of minutes you want to buy. With Movistar there were two options: 25 minutes for $5 or 50 minutes for $10. Not bad considering the direct calling rates. Through the voice prompts you can select the paquete you want to buy and the amount will be deducted from your prepaid balance.
There are paquetes available for pretty much every country. If you are planning to talk for more than a few minutes they are well worth the investment. Also, unlike the Claro paquetes sold in El Salvador, those in Ecuador can be used for multiple calls.
Paquetes don’t only exist for long distance calling. You can also use them to sign up for data on your smartphone. For example, you can prepay for 50MB of internet at a discounted rate, rather than paying per kilobyte. Usually the smaller the internet paquete the faster it will expire. These vary greatly between countries and companies. The internet paquetes are considerably more expensive in Ecuador than other countries. The smallest amount you can by with Movistar was 15MB with cost $5. This is a royal rippoff compared to Colombia which charged COP$1000 (US$.57) for an entire day of unlimited internet.
Paquetes are also available for text messages and occasionally local calling as well. Most companies have a voice prompt system to sign up, however some companies use a text message system (i.e. text the word "hora" to 300 to sign up for one hour of internet).
With a little time spent planning your destinations there will be plenty of speedy internet for everyone. Don’t bother with a USB modem unless you have cash to burn. And remember to ask about paquetes before paying the direct dial rate for international calls.